There are very few things that purists and modernists agree on in cricket. The older, wiser, more traditional lot believe that Test cricket is the only form of the game that really counts, that whites are colour of cricket and that anything else is not quite cricket. The younger, fresher, more mobile lot have no appetite for games that go five days without a clear winner, want their runs and wickets bookended by pom-pom wielding cheerleaders and that anything longer than a feature film is a waste of time.
Yet, in early April, in today’s times, the twain have their appetites sated, even if they do not quite meet halfway in the middle. In England, original home of cricket, the much anticipated Wisden Almanack for the year gone by is unveiled. At once an anachronism in the days of smart phones and yet arguably more relevant than ever before, the yellow brick chronicles the best, worst and everything in-between on and off the field.
There are few things that are as synonymous with cricket as much as Wisden, in its 154th edition, the longest surviving sporting publication of any kind. There are some annoyingly quirky things about the book: nobody can be Cricketer of the Year more than once, the focus is so much on English cricket and cricket in England and the font size so small that it should come with a complimentary magnifying glass. Lawrence Booth, the current editor, has gone some way in dragging the Almanack, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century, broadening its scope, featuring more on women’s cricket, looking at important trends around the world, and, even saving space for the Indian Premier League.
It is this tournament, also usually unfolding in early April, that provides the new home of cricket, India, with a fix that really should come with a statutory warning: consume judiciously to avoid serious risk of overdose. In its 10th season, the IPL is but an amorous twinkling of the eye, in comparison to the Almanack, but it has already become something of a habit among its faithful.
Instead of surfing channels and having to choose between some version of Godzilla, decade-old reruns of America’s Funniest Home Videos, the unfunny but perpetually on-air Kapil Sharma Show and politicians trading insults in the garb of discussions on news channels, Indians can safely turn on one channel and know they will have something to watch. Mind you, very few people will actually end up watching every single game of an IPL season and retain enough sanity to tell the tale after, but there is a comfort factor in knowing that there is cricket on the telly.
In its early years, the IPL swung so far towards being a reality show, with paid-for parties, contrived innovations, cheerleading commentators and franchises who had not yet cracked the formula to success. In its adolescence, the IPL made the news more often for the wrong reasons. One player slapped another, someone was caught with his hand in the till, another still listened more closely to bookies than the coach, and the reputation of the league as a serious tournament took a beating. In recent years, despite the scandal, the action has shifted more onto the field, so much so that the 2016 edition was reported almost exclusively in the sports pages of newspapers.
The early part of the IPL presents many opportunities. This season, for example affords the chance to watch Afghanistan’s Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan in action. It is a window into the lives of the likes of Thangarasu Natarajan and Mohammad Siraj, whose hard-working lower middle-class parents can now put their feet up and enjoy the fruits of their offsprings’ labour. It is a fine way to see if the likes of Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh, once pillars of the Indian team, still have it in them to rock the world stage. The time to tot up wins and losses for your favourite team will come later, but the early stages of the IPL are full of sub-plots to satisfy every appetite.
And, if the frenetic pace, bright lights and supercharged broadcast are a bit overwhelming, there’s always the option of hitting the mute button and turning to the obituaries section of Wisden, where time appears to stand still, where the language is restrained yet powerful and where black and white photos are still the heroes.
Whatever your route to cricketing fulfilment, April has you covered.
(This column first appeared in the Economic Times on April 7, 2017)